Spiritual Effectiveness


George A. Rice

image002The prevalent conception of effectiveness in Christian service lays more emphasis upon, and draws more attention to, the man himself than to his Lord. When it is suggested that so-and-so is an effective man, the mental impression registered is usually that the person in question has definite capabilities, that his is a strong, forceful presentation of biblical truth, that he can “get things across”, that he is a man who has had considerable experience in Christian work and thus is well acquainted with the usual ins and outs of things, be it in the ordinary run of church life or in what is known as the “evangelistic field”.



On the other hand, according to so many, an extensive period of academic and theological training is indispensable to effectiveness, thus putting as man’s basic requirement his mental acumen. In other words, actual results or success in the Lord’s work are due to a certain convincing of people by well thought-out, conclusive argument. Hence the importance placed on psychology, logic, rhetoric, etc., in so many training centers of to-day.

Let it be said here, however, that in no way would we depreciate study and the acquirement of any knowledge that can be of use in the Lord’s work. Surely every true servant of the Lord would feel his need of incessant study in order to be able to rightly serve both his Lord and those to whom he is sent. But is not the object of a great many of those who enter centers of training rather that of eventually filling a pulpit and preaching acceptable sermons, as well as being generally efficient in the discharge of the regular duties of church life? That is to say, their uppermost thought is that of receiving training that will make them capable of undertaking certain Christian service. Unhappily this is the viewpoint of many of those who are responsible for the teaching in such centers — a viewpoint that the average student would soon imbibe, that is if he had not fallen victim to it previously.


Such an outlook is certainly not spiritual. Man is subtly exalted, and is himself made to be the source, the sine qua non, of effectiveness; and when man is exalted there can be carnal effectiveness, but not spiritual effectiveness. Man apart from the Lord is “flesh”, be what it may the extent of his mental preparation and practical experience; and the divine verdict with respect to “flesh” is that it “profits nothing” (John 6:63). The “flesh” can never be trained for God’s service; it can never be made spiritually effective. Just as “that which is born of the flesh is (for ever) flesh”, and “cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, in like manner this same nature of ours cannot function in the spiritual sphere. There can be no effectiveness, no eternal result, from that which has its birth in man.


Let us look into the subject more closely. Paul says, “1 was made a minister” (i.e., a “servant”) — he did not “take up” the ministry, he was called to it — “according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of his power” (Eph. 3:7). There had been a mighty divine inworking that had reached every part of the apostle’s being, and that had broken down entirely the Saul of Tarsus “regime”. That this was simultaneous with the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ that was granted him is without doubt. In a flash, as he saw Christ, he also saw himself. More than this, he says, “It pleased the Father to reveal his Son in me that 1 might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:15-17). Saul the Pharisee saw in the Risen Son of God the One who had to replace entirely this Saul of Tarsus. After such a visitation from the Lord, Saul – later Paul – who, according to human judgment, could well have trusted in the flesh, never again saw in himself any “good thing”.

We arrive at this conclusion that the first step in our preparation for an effective “ministry”, whatever our calling, is a complete undoing of all that we are in the natural – only then can there be a drawing on the new Source. “I have been crucified… Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Following the experience of this breaking-down before the Lord, spiritual effectiveness is gloriously possible!


Let Scripture answer. It is said of the apostles that, after Pentecost, “they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them” (Mark 16:20). As they announced the Word under the guidance of, and in full dependence on, the Holy Spirit, the Lord was able to work, and to accomplish his purposes. What amazing results there were in those days! Paul likewise ever counted himself as one who labored with his Lord. Let us remind ourselves of but one of his expressions in this respect: “I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily” (Col. 1:29). Might we not deduct from these and many other similar passages (viz. 2 Co. 1:9; 6:4-10; 10:3-6; 12:9-10; 13:4; Eph. 3:20; Phil. 4:13; see also Jas. 5:16) that spiritual effectiveness is simply: his working… in me”?

Again, our Lord has returned to his Father in order to “fulfill all things”. He has called out a “body” of many members, and given them spiritual gifts in order that, through his Spirit, cooperation with him may be realized. Our Lord, as Son of Man, had lived in full dependence on his Father: “I live by the Father”… (John 6:57). “My Father does the works” (John 14:10). Now, as the risen and glorified Christ, operating in us by his Spirit, He tells as of old, that we are to live by him:for without me you can do nothing! (John 15:5).


Finally — what purpose is our Lord fulfilling in the earth? He is raising up and perfecting a Testimony to Himself: an “executive body” — composed of all those who have been made “new” in all their being and action — that shall cooperate spiritually with him, being subject to him, as Head, in all things – a body that is an instrument for the establishment of his victory, and the manifestation of his glory, now and in eternity.

Are we with the Lord in this; is this our passion? If not, there will be a serious weakening of our effectiveness, since the end in view must affect our present action. A true, practical oneness with our Lord on resurrection ground, in all that that involves, must have, and alone can have as its outcome, continuous effective ministry.